Architectural Engineering Building Faculty Mentoring Program

The faculty members in the Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) believe that professional development of fellow AE faculty members is everyone’s responsibility, and that each faculty member can offer support based on their unique perspective, experiences, and role in the department. To help better understand mentoring needs and to facilitate mentoring opportunities, the department organizes workshops comprising an organized presentation or panel and more informal small group discussions. This work began in 2020, and detailed information about the faculty mentoring efforts so far is available below.

Academic Year 2020-21 Final Report

July 15, 2021
Coordinating faculty: Michelle Vigeant, Associate Professor of Acoustics and Architectural Engineering

Introduction

A new faculty mentoring program, AE Building Faculty Mentoring Program, was launched for AE tenure-track (TT) faculty in academic year 2020-21 and was led by Michelle Vigeant, associate professor of acoustics and architectural engineering. While the program was targeted towards AE TT faculty, AE faculty and TT faculty from other College of Engineering (COE) programs were also invited to participate. Faculty from the following departments attended at least one of the offered sessions: acoustics, agricultural and biological Engineering, engineering science and mechanics (ESM), and the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP). An introduction to the program was given to AE faculty at a departmental meeting on August 17, 2020.

The program consisted of two components: eight workshops, presentations, and panel discussions over the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, as well as a peer-mentoring program, which was launched during the fifth workshop. All workshops were either presented or moderated by Michelle Vigeant, except for the last panel discussion with the COE associate deans led by Anthony Atchley, senior associate dean. The majority of the workshops were ninety minutes in duration.

Between AE faculty and those from the other listed departments, five to six faculty members on average participated in each of the workshops and nine faculty participated in the peer-mentoring program. All workshops were held over Zoom due to the pandemic. I speculate that attendance was lower than it might have otherwise been given the difficult conditions imposed by the pandemic. (Free food usually helps with attendance as well, which wasn’t possible!) The original intention was to post the recordings for those who were unable to attend, but participants didn’t feel comfortable having recordings shared with others due to the sensitive nature of some of topics discussed. Details about each component are discussed below.


Workshops

Eight workshops were held over the course of the program and were in one of two formats: either a presentation, most with case studies or breakout group discussions, or a panel discussion. For the case studies, participants were divided into groups and used a shared Google doc that all participants could access and edit. AE TT faculty were surveyed about their interest in participating in the program and rated their interest on several topics. Those topics with the highest average ratings were selected as offerings for the program. The workshops are described below in chronological order of offering, including recommendations for future offerings.

All workshop materials are available on OneDrive.


Session 1, September 18, 2020: Dealing with Difficult Conversations and Negotiations

Format: Presentation and case studies; given by Michelle Vigeant

The goal of this session was to develop and practice strategies for dealing with difficult conversations. Topics discussed: (1) conflict styles, with accompanying case study; and (2) skills for approaching difficult conversations, with accompanying case study.

The five typical conflict styles (Thomas-Kilmman conflict styles), competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, and compromising, were presented. The styles were presented in the context of balancing one’s own interests and preserving the relationship. A case study was presented about an assistant professor struggling to address issues with her graduate research assistant. Workshop participants were divided into groups and identified how the issue could be addressed using the five styles.

The second main topic was skills for responding to or initiating difficult conversations, along with a case study to explore the skills discussed, which were: active listening, separating interests from positions, open-end questions, “I” language, framing, and limit setting. Emphasis was placed on getting all the facts and understanding the issue, rather than going into the conversation with a set outcome. A case study was presented about a new interdisciplinary TT faculty trying to get clarification on promotion and tenure (P&T) requirements due to their unique situation. Groups worked through a series of questions applying skills that were presented to approach this difficult conversation.

References

  • Adapted from Leadership Education for Advancement and Promotion (LEAP) workshop for TT faculty held at University of Colorado-Boulder, which I attended in June 2009. (This workshop was an outcome from a past NSF Advance award.) The presentation on this topic was given by Tom Sebok of University of Colorado-Boulder’s Ombud’s office.
  • Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991), Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, 2nd Ed. (Houghton Mifflin)

Session 2, October 16, 2020: Proposal Writing

Format: Panel discussion; moderated by Michelle Vigeant with panelists listed below

The goal of this session was to provide an open Q&A panel discussion on the topic of proposal writing. Senior faculty from several COE departments with excellent funding track records from several sources were invited to participate in a panel discussion (see list below). Panelists each gave a short introduction, including general advice on proposal writing, and then questions followed. Some of the topics raised were regarding the need for preliminary data, NSF pre-submission (contacting program managers) and resubmission, and strategies for obtaining funding from DOD, DOE, NIH, and industry.

Panelists:

  • Patrick Drew, Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics; Associate Director of the Neuroscience Institute; Huck Distinguished Associate Professor of Neural Engineering and Neurosurgery
    Has NIH and NSF funding; served on many NIH review panels and some NSF panels
  • Daniel Hayes, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Graduate Programs Coordinator
    Has NIH and NSF funding; served on many NIH review panels
  • Steven Lynch, Associate Professor Mechanical Engineering
    Has industry (primarily) and DOD funding
  • Jacqueline O’Connor, Associate Professor Mechanical Engineering
    Has NSF (primarily), DOE, and ONR
  • Namiko Yamamoto, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering
    DOD (Navy), NSF, and Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence

Session 3, November 13, 2020: Penn State Promotion and Tenure Expectations

Format: Panel discussion; moderated by Michelle Vigeant with panelists listed below

The goal of this session was to provide an open Q&A panel discussion on the topic of Penn State promotion and tenure expectations from the perspectives of the AE department head and two AE faculty who are currently serving on the AE department-level P&T committee and past members of the COE college-level committee (see list below). The panelists were invited to share their experiences and perspectives of the P&T process. The session began with each panelist giving a short statement. TT faculty from the AE department and the five other participating departments were invited to attend. In addition, all AE faculty were invited to participate in the session if interested.

Panelists:

  • Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor & Head of the Department of Architectural Engineering
  • William Bahnfleth, Professor of Architectural Engineering and AE P&T Committee member during AY 2020-21; past chair of AE P&T committee several times; recent 2-year term as a member of COE P&T committee
  • Thomas Boothby, Professor of Architectural Engineering and AE P&T Committee chair during AY 2020-21; past member of COE P&T committee

Some key points from the session:

  • Focus on what you want to accomplish and not on what you think your peers expect of you.
  • Submit proposals only on topics that you’re truly passionate and excited about.
  • TT faculty were encouraged to publish as much as possible, including their dissertation work.
  • Work to cultivate habits that will serve you well both before and after tenure.
  • Process can be challenging since standards are not necessarily clear.
  • Departments tend to have different criteria of how the three components are balanced, but there is a recognition of that at the college-level committee.
  • Need to be true to yourself to pursue your intellectual interests, which you aren’t necessarily free to do in industry.
  • Number of graduate students to supervise at a time and make it a priority to have graduate a PhD student.
  • Advice for narrative statement.
  • Unfunded proposals may be included in second and fourth year reviews, but not in sixth year review.

Session 4, December 4, 2020: Mentoring Graduate Students – Improving Mentored Research Relationships

Format: Presentation and case study; given by Michelle Vigeant

The goal of this session was for participants to gain an improved understanding of how to build mentoring relationships with the specific topics of: (1) adviser versus mentor (an adviser is akin to a supervisor, while a mentor takes on many roles, e.g. coach, trainer, role model, supporter, etc.); (2) stages of mentoring (initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition after graduation); and (3) practical matters as related to working with students (e.g. selecting students, setting expectations, meeting frequency, and progress reviews). The session concluded with a case study about a graduate student who initially started out strong but stalled once she started to really tackle her research and was resistant to getting help.

References:

  • Gee, K. et al. (2015). Preparing for a career in academia: Managing students in research (Abstract). J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
  • Gee, K. and Popper, A. (2017). Improving Academic Mentoring Relationships and Environments. Acoustics Today
  • Gee, K. (2019). Ideas for improving each phase of a mentored research relationship. J. Acoust. Soc. Am.

Session 5, January 15, 2021: Peer-Mentoring Groups Launch

Format: Presentation and practice peer-mentoring round; given by Michelle Vigeant

The purpose of this session was to launch the peer-mentoring groups. A formal method of how to discuss a challenge was presented, which was then followed by splitting the participants in a break-out group to practice the method by discussing one challenge within their group. This workshop was only open to the TT faculty in the program.

The prescribed was a combination of two similar approaches: “critical friends” as presented at the Big10 Women Faculty 2012 workshop and “success circles” by Next Level Leadership, which I was introduced to and practiced in the Changing the Future for Women Faculty at the Penn State leadership program in spring of 2021. The general procedure is as follows: (1) One faculty member (the “presenter”) describes a challenge they are facing. (2) Peers ask questions. (3) ONLY the peers discuss the issue, and the presenter listens. (4) The presenter asks questions to better understand the suggestions. The detailed procedure for the groups is available on OneDrive.

A total of three groups were formed with three faculty members in each group and were encouraged to meet monthly during the spring 2021 term. To create well-balanced groups with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the groups were created taking into account gender, home department, and country of origin.

The groups were as follows:

  • Jared Butler (SEDTAPP), Becca Napolitano (AE), and Juli Simon (Acoustics)
  • Nate Brown (AE), Yuqing Hu (AE), and Juliana Vasco-Correa (Ag. & Biol. Eng.)
  • Alp Durmus (AE), Sandra Allain (SEDTAP), and Andrea Arguelles (ESM)

References:

  • “Critical Friends Process & Guidelines.” (2013). Mentoring and Networking Workshop for Junior Women Faculty in the Big10.
  • “Success Circles.”  Next Level Leadership as presented as part of the Changing the Future for Women Faculty at Penn State Leadership Program (Jan-June 2021). NOTE: Materials are copyrighted and may not be shared outside the program.

Session 6, March 26, 2021: Small Teaching Changes with Major Impacts

Format: Presentation; given by Michelle Vigeant

The purpose of this session was to provide recommendations on minor changes that can be made to lectures that result in major improvements in student learning. The material for this workshop was based on James Lang’s teaching workshop given at Penn State, “From Minor Changes to Major Learning”, on February 27, 2020. Lang’s workshop was based on material in his 2016 book: “Small teaching: everyday lessons from the science of learning,” (Jossey-Bass/Wiley), which is available as an eBook from the Penn State library. The content included an overview of making small teaching changes, including guidelines for making small teaching innovations (brief interventions during lecture periods to reinforce topics and limit the number of new interventions within a course) and the three key principles of learning: obtaining and retaining knowledge, expanding and transferring knowledge to grow understanding, and creating community to foster participation and engagement. Example strategies to implement for each of these three principles were also presented.

References:


Session 7, April 14, 2021: Academic Culture & Climate and Leading from the Back of the Room

Format: Presentation and case study; given by Michelle Vigeant

The goal of this workshop was to provide strategies to junior faculty about how to make change within their department as a relatively new faculty member. The workshop included two main topics: an overview of academic culture and climate, and how to make change by “leading from the back of the room” through a case study. The culture of an organization establishes the norms for how members should respond to and solve problems within that organization. Faculty must learn to work within multiple cultures simultaneously: academia in general, discipline-specific, and all levels at their institution. New faculty often struggle with how to navigate challenges faced by their department and concerns over voicing their opinions that may conflict with senior colleagues.

For the second part, a case study of an assistant professor who would like to implement change within her department was be explored. A structured activity to discuss this case study and how to best navigate this process was a key component of this workshop. The purpose of the activity was to identify the primary players in the department and their degree of influence to develop a plan to present a proposal about improving undergraduate teaching at a department meeting.

References:

  • Trower, C.A. (2012) “Success on the Tenure Track: Five Keys to Faculty Job Satisfaction”, Ch. 6 (The Johns Hopkins University Press). Book reported on results from efforts at Harvard University called COACHE – Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.
  • Adapted from Leadership Education for Advancement and Promotion (LEAP) workshop for TT faculty held at University of Colorado-Boulder (2009). The presentation on this topic was given by John Frazee, Director of Faculty Relations and Affairs, University of Colorado Boulder.

Session 8, May 14, 2021: P&T Panel Discussion with COE Associate Deans

Format: Panel discussion; led and co-moderated by Associate Dean Anthony Atchley and co-moderated by Michelle Vigeant, and panelists listed below

The purpose of this session was to provide AE TT faculty with an opportunity to meet with many of the COE associate deans in a small-group setting and to ask questions about the tenure and promotion review process. This session was the second offering of this form, with the first session being held in spring 2020 and organized by Sez Atamturktur, head of the Department of Architectural Engineering. Senior Associate Dean Anthony Atchley led the discussion with the other associate deans (ADs) in attendance to answer questions. At the time of scheduling the event, all associate deans were available to participate. However, after making accommodations to schedule all ADs, the staff person for ADs Butler and Lesieutre informed me that normally only one of these two ADs normally attends such events. In the end, AD Butler joined, but AD Lesieutre did not. In addition, AD Peeples had a schedule change and was unable to attend.

AD Atchley opened the discussion with an introduction encouraging faculty to reflect on their long-term career plans and to continually reflect on progress towards long-term advancement. He also provided some advice about the narrative statement and dossier materials. AD Butler provided information about excellence in teaching and that his office is available to support candidate’s efforts in this regard. AD Rahn emphasized that university administrators (department heads and dean’s office) are there to support faculty through the process by providing formal feedback in advance of the final review. Additional points are provided in the supplemental documentation.

Panelists:

  • Anthony Atchley, Senior Associate Dean, COE
    Provided an introduction to the process at the start of the session and co-moderated
  • Peter Butler, Associate Dean for Education and Graduate Professional Programs, COE
  • Chris Rahn, Associate Dean for Innovation, COE

Summary

The inaugural offering of the AE Building Faculty Mentoring Program in AY2020-21 consisted of eight workshops and formation of peer-mentoring groups. Most workshops were open to all AE faculty, along with TT faculty in five other, smaller engineering departments at University Park. Attendance averaged five to six faculty members, which was likely lower due to the additional challenges imposed by the pandemic. Hopefully, future offerings where the sessions can be in person and during a more typical year will improve participation. It was challenging to schedule times that worked for all AE TT faculty’s teaching schedules. Nine faculty across all participating departments elected to join a three-member peer-mentoring faculty group. It is recommended that the peer-mentoring groups be launched earlier in the academic year, early-to-mid fall semester, in a future offering.

In general, I would recommend that all workshops be scheduled for a minimum of ninety minutes, with some exceptions noted above to extend the sessions to two hours. It is recommended that all topics that were covered in this first year should be included in future offerings. Additional topics for future offerings are:

  • Workshop on specific strategies to write a compelling proposal, possibly serving as additional preparation for writing an NSF CAREER proposal.
  • Research management methods, including preparing and managing budgets and creating a collaborative culture within one’s lab group.
  • Additional workshop on teaching, e.g. active learning strategies, best practices, etc.

In summary, the program was curated to include key topics that were presented at external, junior faculty workshops that I attended. I believe the participants found both the workshops and the peer-mentoring groups to be helpful as they navigate the promotion and tenure process. I recommend that the program continue to be offered annually.


 
 

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